I have to stop to wipe snowflakes from my cheeks. I make funny faces and blink my snow decorated eyelashes to keep my face warm.
During the past 8 kilometers, I’ve met three other skiers on the tracks. Usually, I am exchanging greetings every few hundred meters on this part of the machine-made cross-country skiing track that runs from Saariselkä to Kakslauttanen in northern Finland. But this Christmas Day is quiet. Maybe people are recovering from Christmas Eve dinner, or maybe they think that -25 is too cold for skiing. Maybe they are sensible.
I’ve bundled up and am keeping a good pace to stay warm. Despite that, I can feel the chill when the breeze brushes against my exposed skin. I know that the temperature is dropping even further when I glide down towards Kakslauttanen, which sits in a dip that tends to store cold air. I reach the bottom of the hill and make my way to a quicksilver thermometer on a sign-post. I wipe the snow away and see that the blue line marks a steady -34°C.
Christmastime in Saariselkä
I have spent Christmastime in Lapland nearly every year – I think I’ve skipped Lapland maybe three times in my whole life. It is a family tradition. Lapland is not a place I visit to see something new. I want to enjoy snow and landscape, peace, and darkness. I remember incredibly cold winters with bright starry skies, and I remember mild, misty winters.
My family and I have stayed in different parts of Lapland over the winters. Previously I have written a few posts about Christmastime in Ylläs, but most often we have been in the Saariselkä area where the fells draw familiar shapes against the sky and I know the skiing trails by heart.
Saariselkä is a town in Eastern Lapland and it is popular among international tourists: skiing centre, spa, hotels, one grocery store, a few shops and a lot of activities. But there are also cottages for people like my family, who don’t need any organised activities, just a few good books, and enough snow for cross country skiing.
Tourist, but not ideal
I had a normal Christmas and New Year. Quiet and cosy time with family. A few hours of fresh air each day while skiing or snowshoeing. Sauna every day…
But I am not the ideal visitor that the businesses in Lapland need. The official visitor statistics for December are not yet available but we can guess what they look like. International tourists never arrived. Hotels were empty. Businesses offering special activities were struggling.
Domestic travel does not fill the gap that the non-existing international travel has created. This is because domestic and international tourists have different habits in Lapland. In general, Finns don’t tend to go to husky safaris and pay fortunes for nights in glass igloos although these are solid attractions for international tourists. Finns, like my family, who shop in the grocery store and prepare all the meals themselves, are not helping the restaurant owners, but they are bringing money to the grocery store – and most likely to the liquor store as well.
The lack of international visitors hits tourism operators hard. I feel bad for them, but I also think that it is great that people are appreciating simple holidays – enjoying the environment and atmosphere without all the extra activities.
I hope that visitors will be able to enjoy Lapland – the place itself as well as the special, once in a lifetime experiences – again next winter.
- What: Christmas and New Year in Saariselkä
- Where: Saariselkä, Lapland, Finland
- Activities: cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing… enjoying snow